Australia/October 18, 2022/By: Ben Smee/Source: https://www.theguardian.com/
MP Grace Grace says schools should be ‘supportive environments’, after Livingstone Christian College principal’s investigation
Queensland’s education minister, Grace Grace, says she is considering beefing up the powers of the independent schools’ regulator, to ensure students outside the state system are “protected and supported”.
On Monday, Guardian Australia revealed the principal of a Gold Coast school, Livingstone Christian College, interviewed several students amid an investigation into whether a teacher had told them she lived with her boyfriend.
The principal had told the teacher that an unmarried relationship went against the school’s “biblical moral standards”.
Grace told Guardian Australia schools should be “warm, welcoming, and supportive environments for students and staff”.
“I do not think it is appropriate for students to be brought into discussions regarding the personal or living arrangements of staff,” she said.
“I am currently looking into powers that the Non-State Schools Accreditation board has, and if they needed to be broadened to ensure Queensland students are being protected and supported in the non-government sector.”
The move to review the board’s powers follows concerns raised earlier this year about the policies of Brisbane’s Citipointe Christian College, which prompted community outrage by attempting to institute “discriminatory” enrolment contracts with anti-gay and anti-trans provisions.
Citipointe also restricted its school counsellors from providing any support to students on matters of sexuality or gender identity. The school was referred to the accreditation board at the time.
Livingstone Christian College has a similar “statement of faith” to the values document that Citipointe attempted to impose this year.
Employment at Christian schools in Queensland is governed by the state’s anti-discrimination act, which allows discrimination in some circumstances, where it is a “genuine occupational requirement”.
The law operates in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” fashion – a religious organisation can discriminate against an employee based on their actions, but not their inherent characteristics or private relationship status.
In a recently published review of the act, the Queensland Human Rights Commission proposed scrapping the clause, citing discrimination against teachers in religious schools.
The proposed new wording, which is being considered by the state government, would mean only teachers involved in direct teaching of religion can be subject to discrimination on religious grounds, and that it would need to be “reasonable and proportionate”.
The Independent Education Union, in its submission to the review published earlier this year, said provisions allowing faith-based schools to discriminate override the rights of many, without proper justification.
“The provision is generally thought to have a disproportionate impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) workers, but the effect of the exemption is much more broad reaching,” the IEU’s submission said.
“An unmarried pregnant woman, or a divorced person, or a person with a child to someone they are not married to, is a lawful participant of society and is widely accepted as not infringing on community standards. However, the … exemption may be used to justify a decision to terminate that person’s employment.”
Livingstone Christian College and its umbrella organisation, Christian Community Ministries, did not respond to a request for comment.
The teacher involved resigned soon after, saying she felt unable to remain at the school.